Renault 5 Campus / Renault Express

Do you remember that first love? The awkward sloppy kiss at the school disco, or that first band where you bought all their albums and had their posters on your wall. Or, most importantly, that first car that you polished and washed and cleaned and then filled up with McDonald's wrappers before crashing it into a tree.

Ten, twenty, thirty years later, you're all grown up and you drive something sober and serious, you listen to established bands and you're married. But you never let go of that first love, that youthful spark of joie de vivre, that running around without a care in the world. You were young, you had no sense of taste or style but that didn't matter; you were just having fun.

You know it was a silly fling, you know the flaws of that relationship and that it would never work out. But sometimes, you catch yourself on your favourite auction site, just checking up on the prices of that first car, just making sure it's still available, out there, yours if you want it.

For many, that feeling is reserved for the Renault 5. Not for me personally, of course (I do have a modicum of taste), but there's been at least one hot hatch in our lives that we hark back to with a wistful look in our eye. And this was Hot Hatch that started it all. There's no need to go into the details of how the R5 came to be and how much it owes to the Renault 4, as there are a thousand fan sites out there documenting every element of the R5's conception. Suffice to say that, as early as 1972, Renault had got the recipe just right, and launched the supermini to rapturous applause and years of successful sales followed.

It can be difficult to comprehend just how perfect the Renault 5 was; indeed, the only criticism that could be levelled at it, and somewhat unfairly, was that it only three doors rather than five - something that should have been brushed aside with a Gallic scoff but, with the Volkswagen Golf and Honda Civic both boasting more than four doors, Renault needed to get back into the game. Their first market of young professionals had grown up and had kids, and they expected their Renault 5 to grow up with them, so in 1978 they established the supersecret Project 140, and assembled a number of prototypes ranging from the futuristic to the communistic in terms of taste, none of which appealled to the consumer, who just wanted a Renault 5 with five doors.

So in 1984, Renault did just that. No changes, no modifications, they just carried on making the Renault 5, only this time it was called the Superfive or rather, SuperCinq. It excelled itself.
Of course, there were upgrades to the original design, not least the engine range which for such a simple car was simply phenomenal. Starting at a mere 950cc, the R5 had a full 1.7litre shoehorned under the bonnet at one stage offering 95 horsepower, more than double that of the smallest engine. That's not including the unique rally version, which had the engine behind the drivers seat and planted 400hp to the wheels.

This passion for uniqueness is peculiar to Renault, and their fondness for Limited Editions, saw the Supercinq adorned with 34 different varieties of Eighties-style dayglo decals in triangular fonts with palm trees. This particular little unit is a Campus Edition, which means nothing in itself but gives a little clue about the origins of the beast. It's not French.

After 18 years, the Renault 5 was getting on a bit and younger, more dynamic engineers were working on the Clio with all its va va voom and variable valve timing and other mechanical wizardry modern teenagers drool over. But the Renault 5 couldn't just be cancelled; it had become a class icon, especially amongst urban youths venturing to university. So the entire production was transplanted to Slovenia, where they continued making the Renault 5 at the same time as its successor, only pulling the plug in 1996. For any other car manufacturer, this would be madness; offering a car for sale when you've already made its replacement, but the love affair with the Renault 5 was so strong that it just couldn't be forgotten. Those Nineties Campuses all rolled out into the Mediterranean sunshine, which may explain why this one still looks so shiny.

But there's also that blot on the Supercinq's history and that's the Renault Express. An ugly little van botched together from a Renault 5 and a horsebox, it's like a Supercinq with stretchmarks; something so bad that even with its windows left open, no-one wanted to steal it. It was a foray into the market of MPV, where the Renault 5 really grew up, into the fat wife with three kids instead of the cute girl you had a crush on all those years ago.


Unknown said...

What a lovley trubute to the famous 5.

What a car!

Boo Long said...

The engines were about the only thing that DIDN'T change for the Superfive of 1984!
The car was a whole new design, based on the suspension and floorpan of the Renault 9/11, with a R5 looking body (by Marcello gandidni no less!) on top.
The engines though were pretty much the same 950/1100/1400 Cleon units that had been in the old R4-based R5, just now turned sideways like the 9 and 11.
The Clio was the same 9/11 floorpan again, just now with new OHC engines and Clio-shape body on.